“Doing” and “being” in grief – Part 1

I’m coming up on a year now, a year since death invaded my heart once again and left me reeling. You might be thinking ‘What? She’s a grief counselor, she works with grieving people and children every day, it’s what she does…she should be used to doing grief by now’ ‘Doing’ grief is different from ‘being’ in grief.

Here’s the ‘doing’ part: It started last year at this time – beginning of summer – warm sunshine, care-free time of the year. Father’s Day last year, Dad (my father-in-law of 42 years) had an ‘incident’.  Dad had been caring for Mom who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a decade ago. Dad was ‘out-of-it’, not making sense, even a bit combative.

Mom and dad anniversary

Mom and Dad on their 63rd wedding anniversary June 2016

That incident began a summer of hospitalizations, a significant fall and then hospice. All summer,  we also struggled with how and who would take care of Mom. Before July was over, before he reached his 88th birthday, he died. Through it all we, my brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, my husband and children have stood together, hugged, supported, cried and laughed; healthy grieving from a loving family. During those days and months right after Dad’s death I felt blessed, relieved, and grateful.

Blessed and grateful for my amazing family, close and comforting, sharing and supportive. We moved forward caring for Mom – together. We cleared out the place that was home for Dad and Mom for fifty years. The home where their family of four grew, in 64 years of marriage, to 41 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Dad and I – September 2006

I was relieved that Dad’s suffering was over. Caring for and grieving the loss of his wife who he adored was beyond difficult for him. Multiple times a day, every single day, Alzheimer’s took her from him a little bit more. He told me that several times a day he’d lose her only to get her back – he’d say: ‘one minute she’s here with me and the next she’s gone and doesn’t even know who I am!’. The emotional pain of caregiving, the slow day-by-day death of someone you love is suffering that feels torturous. It is, I believe, what caused Dad’s death.

And in all the ‘doing’ of this past year: funeral planning for Dad, facility selection and admission for Mom, retaining an attorney for conservatorship and guardianship, clearing out the house with the decades of ‘stuff’ accumulated, selling the house, care conferences for Mom… in all the ‘doing’ – ‘being’ in grief, allowing the sadness and yearning, the ‘my-life-is-forever-changed’ thought and feelings were set aside for the ‘doing’.

No matter how long I am a grief counselor, how many books I may write or people I counsel or ‘educate’ about death, dying and bereavement, no matter how long I ‘do’ grief, being in grief – in the sadness – with nothing to do but feel it; being in grief is a whole different thing….


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